I learned that integrity is more important to me than winning. Sports have a way of revealing your true character. Through some hard lessons learned on the court and from teammates, I knew integrity was more valuable to me than winning. That doesn't mean I always had integrity, but I knew I wanted it. —Michele Fellows Lewis
For nearly two decades Michele Fellows Lewis has woken up and greeted her husband Chad Lewis, an NFL All-Pro, member of the Utah Sports Hall of Fame, and the father of her children. After Tuesday, she will also be a member of that same hall of fame: Pass the milk, dear.
Since both are in the BYU Athletic Hall of Fame, this is their second such hall of fame honor. How many husband-wife combos can put that on a loan application?
Michele will be inducted Tuesday during ceremonies at EnergySolutions Arena. The 2013 class will include some of the state’s biggest names, including Jim McMahon, Ron McBride, Billy Casper and Marv Fleming. Chad Lewis was inducted a year ago.
Michele played for the BYU women's volleyball program at its zenith in the early 1990s and was the captain of a Cougars squad that reached the NCAA Final Four. As an All-American, Michele led BYU to an 84-12 mark her last three years.
I asked her retired coach, Elaine Michaelis, what stood out about Michele and quickly learned why it would be hard for Chad to slack off doing yard work or honey-do lists around their Cedar Hills home.
“The best contribution she made to our team was her leadership,” said Michaelis. “She set the standard in practice every day and she wouldn’t let anybody not give their best in practice. They only had one bad practice the entire year and her leadership was the primary reason.”
Michele played on a soccer team with her twin brother Mark when they were 5.
“I was the only girl on the team. Soccer was my favorite sport until ninth grade. That’s when I started playing volleyball.” Her father taught her how to throw a baseball when she was 7.
Driven, competitive, positive, a natural leader and real-life force. Say these things about Chad and you can repeat them about Michele. On the surface, this is a programmable Stepford couple, designed and created for success.
In reality, they’re simply old-fashioned solid. And athletics have shaped their lives in a big way.
Together, they’ve brought seven children into this world. They include Emily, 17; Sarah, 15; Jake, 12; Jeff, 9; Max, 7 and twins Tanner and Todd, 4. Don’t take on the Lewis clan in any kind of game that involves a ball. Even checkers could be dangerous.
“I met Chad in the athletic training room in the summer of ‘93 right before my senior season and his freshman season,” said Michele. “He asked me out a few weeks later and we dated during our seasons by attending each other's games. He would even have his brother, Mike, pick me up so that I didn't have to find my own way to his game. On our third date, we spent an hour out on the field at Cougar Stadium looking through the grass for his hard contact that had popped out during the game a few hours earlier.”
Early in their marriage, the NFL asked Chad to be the league’s ambassador to China. He’s that kind of person. I once commented that he could make a street light seem dim when he stood beside it.
“I'm constantly amazed by Chad's high energy, enthusiastic, optimism for life,” said Michele, when asked if he was always so upbeat and positive.
“He really is like that all the time. Sometimes it even drives me crazy. Like when I call him to tell him our twin 3-year-old boys have destroyed the bathroom, written on half the clothes in our closet with a Sharpie, and taken scissors to the unopened mail, and he says, "That's awesome! I love those boys! Tell them I'll be home in a few hours to jump on the trampoline with them!"
A friend in Cedar Hills describes the Lewis family as down-to-earth and unassuming. While both Chad and Michele are in frequent demand as speakers, they don’t seek the spotlight. Their home is comfortable, clean and warm and isn’t created or designed for a magazine, according to Jeanette Bennett.
“They invited us over for a backyard barbecue earlier this year,” said Bennett, “and I noticed the frame of their backdoor had peeling paint. I made a mental note to be more comfortable with my own imperfections as a homeowner and mother. Most of us miss out because we hold back until we feel polished enough to throw a party, but Chad and Michele focus more on the feeling of their home — which is open, happy, loving, positive and fun.
"They constantly have a dozen boys running around their house and eating their well-stocked pantry. Whenever I apologize that my son has been there too long, Michele says, ‘It was so fun to have him here! Thanks for letting him play.’ The crazy thing is, I think she means it."
Bennett and Michele serve in the Young Women’s presidency of the Cedar Hills West Stake. Bennett is president; Michele is the first counselor.
“I love serving with her because she is universally loved. Her athletic accomplishments open doors and pique interest, but then everyone loves her even more when they get to know her. It's impossible not to love her because she is so down-to-earth, happy, friendly and calm. It can be difficult to get her to talk about herself. I communicate with her almost everyday, but I didn't know about this hall of fame induction until her mother-in-law posted it on Facebook. And that's true Michele style — understated and never focused on herself.”
An outside hitter, Michele knew how to bring it at the net. Her leaping abilities and forceful hits became legend in BYU volleyball. Like all those who make halls of fame, she played with a fire inside her, noticeable to all.
I asked her what lessons her athletic career taught her.
“Hard work,” she said. “At BYU our team cheer out of almost every timeout was, "WH," which stood for work hard. You can't fake it in sports. You're either in shape or you're not. You either know your opponents' strengths and weaknesses, or you don't. Quality practice time is mandatory. This is how life works. You reap what you sow, just like I learned through volleyball.”
Finally, as a true champion, Michele discovered a philosophical element in her progression as an athlete. It’s one I need to remember on the golf course when tempted to use the foot wedge from behind a tree.
“It’s integrity,” she said. “I learned that integrity is more important to me than winning. Sports have a way of revealing your true character. Through some hard lessons learned on the court and from teammates, I knew integrity was more valuable to me than winning. That doesn't mean I always had integrity, but I knew I wanted it.”
Well done, Lewis couple.
May the fame in all your halls continue.
Dick Harmon, Deseret News sports columnist, can be found on Twitter as Harmonwrites and can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.